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Poster: light into ashes Date: Aug 20, 2011 9:24am
Forum: GratefulDead Subject: Re: 12-05-71

While I also prefer '72 to '71 [and '72 to '73, for that matter], there are a lot of things to like in '71. I know rock & roll's not your favorite alley, but as far as a more energetic delivery & in particular several of Pigpen's jammed-out songs, 1971 is a treat.
On a historical level as well, you can hear the band gain in "punch" and confidence as the year goes on, and it's remarkable how Keith's addition changes the texture & soon takes the jamming to a new level.

But I'd like to mention that, for the jams alone, 1971 is a key year for the Dead. While the jams may be shorter than in the surrounding years, what happens in them is of great importance - as elbow mentioned, 1972 would not have been possible if they hadn't played the '71 shows first.

One thing I noticed about '71 is that, in the jammed Pigpen songs, they were better able to integrate his raps with simultaneous extended jams than they'd done in most of 1970 - the famed Good Lovin's from the spring are the best examples, but in Europe '72 we'd see the final results in the Good Lovin's, Lovelights, and Cautions of that tour.
It's been mentioned that in 1970 Dark Star was kind of "stuck" in a rigid format, that we'd always get the space>thematic jam sections, etc. In '71 the Dead freed themselves from that structure and we get much looser Stars in which anything can happen - an essential prelude to the massive, sprawling Stars of '72.
The Other One also saw a parallel development, in which the Dead came to abandon the rhythmic boundaries of 1970 (and the whole Cryptical section) and could pursue a wider variety of freewheeling jams & cowboy songs within the Other One structure. Needless to say, this was crucial to the way they'd jam out the Other Ones in '72.
Then there's simply the difference in playing & jam techniques that we hear in this year vs. 1970 - more than I can address right now, but through the year they keep developing that 'telepathic' synchronized approach where they can swirl simultaneously in any direction.

The Dead themselves were very aware they were hitting new ground and were pretty excited about it at the time. As Garcia said about the Other One on the '71 live album, it "unfolds in the Dark Star tradition, so to speak. This new one is even more amazing. It is really some of the best playing that we've ever done."

All that said....jamming was only one of the things they were doing in '71, and it's definitely a year where they concentrated on "the songs" as well. There's many a show where we don't get any extended jam at all, other than perhaps a long NFA solo. Many first sets are all but identical to each other (of course, you could accuse some '72 tours of this as well). Many of the new songs, while enjoyable, still feel undeveloped compared to their later versions. So I do understand the relatively low reputation of '71...

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Poster: bkidwell Date: Aug 20, 2011 4:54pm
Forum: GratefulDead Subject: Re: 12-05-71

As usual, LIA provides the perfect synthesis of facts and perspective on the music. The discussion of how the texture of the jams changed in 71 is one of the richest areas for further musical analysis, I think. It certainly does represent the pivot-point.

There is a line of argument I am intrigued with that makes the case that the GD late 60s jam style is as much compositional as improvisational. I'll put it in a narrative frame:

When "we" (average Deadhead) first heard Live Dead, it was astounding and almost shocking. How could music that sounds so good and flows so naturally be the result of collective free improvisation? The mythos of Dark Star is that it is a wild leap into the musical unknown, and the 2/27/69 DS sounds just like it was beamed into the brains of the musicians by some alien intelligence.

Once you start really studying the band and listening to multiple shows from the 68-69 DS era, though, it becomes clear that the Live Dead Star is not at all a spur-of-the-moment happenstance - rather, it is a masterful weaving of musical ideas that the band (especially Jerry) had been refining and exploring onstage for months. Not just the notable riffs and melodies, but even most of the spacier atmospheric textures can be found in variant forms in earlier shows.

Artists usually like to mystify and disguise their methods, and the verbal descriptions of the creative process don't usually match up with what we find from examining the available evidence. A famous example is Poe's essay about how he wrote "The Raven" which is scientific, methodical, and not in accordance with other information we have about it. Similarly, the GD (and certainly many commentators) have sometimes emphasized the free and spontaneous elements in their music-making at the expense of the compositional and practiced elements.

None of this diminishes the greatness of the 2/27/69 DS or the GD's improvisations in general. In fact, the similarities and overlap between versions are what create the effect of musical continuity between multiple performances and over the years.

Anyway, to bring it back to 71 - in 71, as LIA commented, we start to see more "truly open" jamming where the band is deliberately trying to play some extended segments in the 01s and Stars without making use of any already known musical ideas. There is definitely a trade-off between traditional musical coherence and openness. There is a certain "perfect balance" of freedom and control in the magical early 69 stars that for many people is the sweet spot for what they want to hear.